Album Digest, December 2011
Some rather brief pen pictures of this month’s albums. I’ve been a bit busy!
Radio Slave - Collected Remixes
Thud thud thud. This is pretty much how all Radio Slave remixes go. I really liked his fabric mix and borrowed a few tracks for my second playlist a while back. Anyway, back to the thudding: it’s no bad thing, the remixes have a nice formula that works well for discovering new tracks like UNKLE’s Burn My Shadow (Ian Astbury’s vocal is given plenty of room to shine) and K3’s Play To Win.
On more abstract, instrumental tracks the blueprint can lead to an experience that is more robust than it is fun - but only after several such tracks in a row. The action is aimed squarely at the floor but the sequencing does break proceedings up with vocal tracks in such a way that you could probably work to it or something.
The anthology spans 3 CDs, 20 artists and nearly four hours (the shortest track is 7:43, half are over ten minutes long), which for £8.99 is great value but like all such collections it is to be taken in small doses (see also the completely different and yet analogous Orphans compilation from Tom Waits that I mentioned in passing last month).
Pinch & Shackleton - Eponymous
On to the first of two eponymous albums this month. As I said, the Radio Slave collection is definitely aimed at the floor but the P&S album is aimed somewhere a little more abstract. I wasn’t sure what to expect of this album, having only listened to Shackleton’s fabric mix once or twice (although it is helpfully comprised entirely of his own tracks, so I could have researched more thoroughly). Pinch’s FabricLive mix should be dropping into my letterbox early in January so no help there.
I remembered Shackleton’s fabric mix as being somewhat ethereal and spooky, there was a track with someone reading quotes from the bible that gave me goosebumps. The P&S album begins in a similar vein, Cracks In The Pleasuredome is also space, hiss and footsteps for nearly minutes before the beats and the vocal samples kick in. What starts as a curiosity ends as a rather compelling listen.
Elsewhere I was reminded of Future Sound Of London on Torn And Submerged, about halfway through it could be something straight off ISDN. Meanwhile the vocal samples at the start of Selfish Greedy Life recall tracks like I Wish I Had Duck Feet off Orbital’s Snivilisation album. While the tracks aren’t as long as on the Radio Slave comp, each gets plenty of time to develop and they usually twist and develop into different shapes as the runtime progresses. My favourite is probably Monks On The Rum (I included it on the Albums of 2011 playlist), which when it came up at random on my iPod’s song shuffle I immediately identified as being off P&S (having heard the album twice!). It’s another nice little mood piece, a bit like one of the more atmospheric tracks off Red Snapper’s We Aim To Satisfy.
I think if I bother to write down my ten favourite albums this year, I shall probably put N-Plants by Biosphere at the top of the list because it’s a very satisfying electronic album that aims for the head rather than the feet. While you can certainly dance to some bits of the P&S album, it is definitely squarely aimed at a similar head space as N-Plants and had I heard it sooner, it probably would have become a firm favourite too. I shall definitely keep it close by in the new year; I also look forward to rediscovering Shackleton’s fabric mix and to hearing Pinch’s FabricLive mix.
Emika - Eponymous
This came highly recommended and my first thought on hearing it was that it sounded exactly as one hoped last year’s Heligoland from Massive Attack would sound. I would easily swap Flat Of The Blade for Double Edge, a song on this album that seems to cover the same ground.
Another thought was to compare with Katy B’s album “On A Mission” that I wrote about in April, this is less accessible but altogether more satisfying. There is still the focus on relationships (usually going very badly) in the lyrics but the music and production are altogether more innovative and punchy. While Katy B’s songs are slicked in urban radio sheen, the songs on Emika are genuinely grimy and tick with a similar precision and darkness to those on the Pinch & Shackleton album.
3 Hours, Double Edge and Pretend are probably worth the cover price alone but it’s all good, smooth enough to listen to in passing but also enough detail to be interesting when paid attention to. There’s something of Portishead about The Long Goodbye and in a genuine way too, that wish for these tracks to have been part of Heligoland weren’t just trite lip service. If Massive Attack really are going to make another album (who can really be sure?) they should sign her up.